The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

“Armageddon was yesterday, today we have a serious problem.”  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

“Armageddon was yesterday, today we have a serious problem.” The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I finally gave in and read this book after resisting for quite a while.  It seemed everybody I spoke to had recommended it and I kind of backed away, thinking after all that hype I’d only be disappointed.  I’m happy to say I wasn’t. I was hooked straight away.

The basic storyline is this: an old man (Henrik Vanger) has been receiving strange birthday cards from his grand-niece who has been missing, presumed dead for 40 odd years.  Before he dies he wants to know what happened to her and so he hires Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative magazine publisher to investigate the case. After a while, Blomkvist realises he needs an assistant and so hires Lisbeth Salander – an expert computer hacker.  Ok, so the basic premise is a bit of a whodunit – a classic investigation story into a shadowy family history. I’VE HEARD A LOT ABOUT THIS SALANDER, WHAT’S SHE LIKE?

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

The sort of book I buy for the cover

The sort of book I buy for the cover

This is the sort of book you may pick up and read purely based on the title (see also ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’ and ‘The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts’).  In my case, that’s partly true, but also because it was on special offer on the Kindle.

Originally written in Swedish, it follows the adventures of said 100 year old man, Allan Karlsson.  Recently moved into a residential home, Allan is alert and spritely for his age and certainly not ready to slow down.  After making his escape, he spontaneously steals a suitcase and travels across Sweden, creating a motley crew of friends along the way (including a pet elephant).  What Allan doesn’t anticipate is that the suitcase contains thousands in stolen cash and he unknowingly is being chased by a psychotic drug-dealing motorcycle gang leader and the police.

Alongside this story is the story of Allan’s long life, his achievements and political allies.  It’s a sort of Forrest Gumpian story, with Allan creating the A-Bomb, befriending Truman, Stalin, Mao and Franco throughout the years.

Ok, so it’s not great literature, but it is an entertaining read.  It’s easy enough to get into and reads pretty well.  I did find myself wondering when it would end though.  I reckon it could do with being ¾ quarters of the length it is.  There are only so many world leaders Allan can befriend after all, even after 100 years on the planet.

Sample Text:

“I shall destroy capitalism! Do you hear! I shall destroy every single capitalist! And I shall start with you, you dog, if you don’t help us with the bomb!’
Allan noted that he had managed to be both a rat and a dog in the course of a minute or so. And that Stalin was being rather inconsistent, because now he wanted to use Allan’s services after all.
But Allan wasn’t going to sit there and listen to this abuse any longer. He had come to Moscow to help them out, not to be shouted at. Stalin would have to manage on his own.
‘I’ve been thinking,’ said Allan.
‘What,’ said Stalin angrily.
‘Why don’t you shave off that moustache?’
With that the dinner was over, because the interpreter fainted.”

Further Reading:

If you liked the Scandinavian motorcycle gangs you might like The Girl Who Played With Fire

If you like the eccentricities in old age you might like Mr. Rosenblum’s List

A Prayer For Owen Meany – John Irving

“Never confuse faith, or belief—of any kind—with something even remotely intellectual.”

“Never confuse faith, or belief—of any kind—with something even remotely intellectual.”

Poor little Owen.  If you read this book you’ll know what I mean.  Offbeat and tender, this is the story of Owen Meany and his best friend, the narrator, John Wheelwright.  Owen is a peculiar child, he’s undersized with a squeaky voice and a strange aura about him.  Owen tries hard to fit in, yet he never quite can.

The story is told in two time frames, the first follows John as an adult in self imposed exile in Canada and bookends the second, far more intriguing story, which follows John and Owen as kids in small town New Hampshire.  John is middle class, kind of wimpy, unambitious and pre-occupied with the identity of his errant father.  Owen is working class, very intelligent and determined.  Owen is from a stable family background, but has a curious relationship with his parents, both of whom seems afraid of him. TELL ME MORE ABOUT THIS FREAKY KID

Two Caravans – Marina Lewycka

Two Caravans - quietly heartwrenching

Two Caravans – quietly tender

This is the story of a group of migrant workers, from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe who have arrived in England to find their fortune.  What happens instead is they end up living in caravans, picking strawberries for Farmer Leapish to supply the UK supermarkets.  Some have arrived legally, others illegally, but they are all seeking a better life and, in some form or another, love.

This existence continues harmoniously enough until Leapish’s wife comes home to find him in bed with Yola, one of the Polish workers.  A fight ensues during which the police are called.  Frightened by the authorities the migrants flee the farm and embark on a journey across England, trying desperately to blend into a country they don’t really understand and which doesn’t understand them. SOUNDS PRETTY HEAVY EH?

Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman

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Pigeon English – a good book spoilt by a bird.

Pigeon English is the debut novel from Stephen Kelman and was nominated for the Booker prize in 2011.  Based loosely on the Damilola Taylor case, and with support from the Damilola Taylor trust, this is a story about 11 year old Harrison, a Ghanaian immigrant living in a rough housing estate in London.  A boy is fatally stabbed and Harri, along with best friend Dean set out to try and solve the case.

The story is told through Harri’s naive eyes, running through life in his self styled trainers, blissfully unaware of the real dangers of gang life. We the readers on the other hand can sense the imminent danger facing Harri if he doesn’t keep his head down and conform. From the outset we know, sadly there will be no happy ending here.

It’s written in a mixture of London street slang and Ghanaian expressions and I found myself reading it in a heavily accented voice, asweh! For this, among other reasons, the novel instantly seems authentic.  The author himself grew up on a similar estate and has been widely praised for his ability to speak as an 11 year old would.

However, there is a downside to this book and that is the pigeon.  At times it seems that the pigeon, believed by Harri to be watching over him is merely there to justify the book’s title. Apparently the bird is significant as it is supposed to represent the need to belong and the migratory nature of humans.  This all seems a bit too worthy for my liking. There are even some passages narrated by said pigeon which I just don’t get.

However, overall, this is a good book for teenagers that has an appeal to adults also.  Its greatest strength is the colour and naivety of the language used. Its only real weakness is that damn pigeon which seems to trivialize and romanticize what is really a serious subject, knife crime amongst Britain’s youth.

Sample text:

“The buildings are all mighty around here. My tower is as high as the lighthouse at Jamestown. There are three towers all in a row: Luxembourg House, Stockholm House and Copenhagen House. I live in Copenhagen House. My flat is on floor 9 out of 14. It’s not even hutious, I can look from the window now and my belly doesn’t even turn over. I love going in the lift, it’s brutal, especially when you’re the only one in there. Then you could be a spirit or a spy. You even forget the pissy smell because you’re going so fast.”

Further Reading:

If you like the naivety of the child’s narration you might like Room

If you like the challenges facing British immigrants you might like Mr Rosenblum’s List

If you like the street slang you might like The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao

If you like stories about the lost innocence of children you might like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas